Hazleton ordered to pay $1.4M in legal costs for controversial immigration case

A small city in northeastern Pennsylvania has been ordered by U.S. District judge to pay around $1.4 million to two civil rights attorneys who successfully quashed the town’s controversial immigration law in federal court.

Judge James Munley of U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania ordered the city of Hazleton to pay $1.38 million in legal fees and $47,594 in costs to attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union and Latino Justice PRLDEF, who challenged the town’s law in a case that eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high cost of the court fight was one of the reasons that both the ACLU and Latino Justice warned Hazleton not to enact the immigration law. The civil rights groups filed a lawsuit against Hazelton in 2006.

"Hazleton knew and its politicians knew all along that if they were sued and lost, there would be a bill to pay at the end," Omar Jadwat, an ACLU attorney assigned to the case, told the Hazleton Standard-Speaker.

In 2006, then-Mayor Lou Barletta introduced the Illegal Immigration Relief Act, a city ordinance that barred landlords from renting apartments to undocumented immigrants and business owners from hiring them.

"After making a trip to the capital, I realized that Washington wasn’t going to do anything to help us," Barletta, now a Congressman representing parts of Pennsylvania, told Fox News Latino back in 2013.

"It was a lightning rod," Barletta added, referring to the Hazleton’s immigration ordinance. "I had no idea what was going to come after that."

The law was eventually ruled unconstitutional and while current Hazleton Mayor Joseph Yannuzzi said he planned to appeal a ruling made by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the eight-year case ended when the U.S. Supreme Court declined last March to hear the city's appeal.

"We felt we were right. We still feel we are right. Of course, they don't agree with us," Yannuzzi said.

Barletta added that he felt the ruling by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals would have been different if the case was heard somewhere other than in nearby Philadelphia.

"What is legal today in Arizona or Fremont, Nebraska, is not legal in Hazleton,” he said “That's unfair, and the U.S. Supreme Court should step in and fix this patchwork of local laws intended to combat illegal immigration," Barletta said.

Yannuzzi added that he hopes that he can negotiate to spread out the payment over a period of time to ease the burden on the cash-strapped city. Judge Munley set the payment date for January 15, 2016, so the two sides have until then to work out a deal.

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